Death toll in China rises to 563 as lockdown enters third week.
The death toll and number of infections continued to soar in China, officials said Thursday.
It has been two weeks since the authorities in Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, declared that the city would be locked down as they tried to contain the virus’s spread. The cordon that was first imposed around the city of 11 million quickly expanded to encircle roughly 50 million people in the province of Hubei.
The lockdown is unprecedented in scale and experts have questioned its effectiveness. Wuhan and the province of Hubei have borne the brunt of the epidemic as the sudden shutdown of transportation links into and around it slowed down the transportation of vital medical supplies. The fatality rate in Wuhan is 4.1 percent and 2.8 percent in Hubei, compared to just 0.17 percent elsewhere in mainland China.
The Chinese government says the quarantine has prevented a broader outbreak in the rest of the country, but its impact on residents in Wuhan and Hubei have raised ethical concerns.
“This is almost a humanitarian disaster” for the central Chinese region, said Willy Lam, an adjunct professor at the Center for China Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, who cited insufficient supplies of medical equipment, food and other necessities. “The Wuhan people seem to be left high and dry by themselves.”
Health officials said that 563 people had died from the virus, up from nearly 500 people the day before, and that 28,018 cases had been confirmed. On Monday, the number of confirmed cases was put at 20,438, meaning the number increased more than 35 percent in just a few days.
Many doctors believe that the number of deaths and infections are undercounted because hospitals and laboratories are under severe strain to test for the virus. Local officials in Hubei Province, the center of the outbreak, have called on health care workers to speed up the process.
Many sick residents in Hubei also say that they have been turned away by overstretched hospitals, which lack test kits and beds.
The widening scope of the new virus has strained China’s health care system and brought the country to a standstill. The government has sealed off more cities, canceled public gatherings and shut down schools.
Wuhan told to round up infected residents for new mass quarantine camps.
A senior Chinese official has ordered the authorities in the city of Wuhan to immediately round up all residents in the city who have been infected with the coronavirus and place them in isolation, quarantine, or in designated hospitals.
Sun Chunlan, a vice premier tasked with leading the central government’s response to the outbreak, said city investigators should go to each home to check the temperatures of every resident and interview infected patients’ close contacts.
“Set up a 24-hour duty system. During these wartime conditions, there must be no deserters, or they will be nailed to the pillar of historical shame forever,” Ms. Sun said.
The city’s authorities have raced to meet these instructions by setting up makeshift mass quarantine shelters this week. But concerns are growing about whether the centers, which will house thousands of people in large spaces, will be able to provide even basic care to patients and protect against the risk of further infection.
A lockdown across the city and much of its surrounding province has exacerbated a shortage of medical supplies, testing kits and hospital beds for those sickened by the coronavirus. Many residents, unwell and desperate for care, have been forced to go from hospital to hospital on foot, only to be turned away from even being tested for the virus, let alone treated. They have had to resort to quarantines at home, risking the spread of the virus within families and neighborhoods.
The city has set up makeshift shelters in a sports stadium, an exhibition center and a building complex. Some went into operation on Thursday. The shelters are meant for housing coronavirus patients with milder symptoms, the government has said.
When Ms. Sun inspected one of the shelters, set up in Hongshan Stadium on Tuesday, she emphasized that anyone who should be admitted must be rounded up, according to a Chinese news outlet, Modern Express. “It must be cut off from the source!” she said of the virus. “You must keep a close eye! Don’t miss it!”
Photos taken inside the Hongshan sports stadium showed narrow rows of simple beds separated only by desks and chairs typically used in classrooms. Some comments on Chinese social media compared the scenes to those from the Spanish flu in 1918.
A widely shared post on Weibo, a popular social media site, said on Thursday that “conditions were very poor” at an exhibition center that had been converted into a quarantine facility. There were power failures and electric blankets could not be turned on, the user wrote, citing a relative who had been taken there, saying that people had to “shiver in their sleep.”
There was also a staff shortage, the post said, where “doctors and nurses were not seen to be taking note of symptoms and distributing medicine,” and oxygen devices were “seriously lacking.”
Xi orders crackdown on people who undermine efforts to fight virus.
China’s leader, Xi Jinping, said on Wednesday that the country was at a “critical moment” in its fight against the coronavirus epidemic and ordered a crackdown on people who undermine the country’s efforts to control the outbreak.
Mr. Xi also said his government would crack down on people who assault medical workers and who manufacture and sell fake products, according to Xinhua, the state-run news agency. He also said that officials would take aim at those who resist epidemic prevention and control efforts, including by spreading false rumors.
On Monday, Mr. Xi called the epidemic “a major test of China’s system and capacity for governance.”
The epidemic has strained China’s health care system and brought the country to a virtual standstill. And the virus continues to spread.
In the quiet streets of Wuhan, the party tries to be heard.
From Chris Buckley, our chief China correspondent, on the ground in Wuhan:
In the mornings, Wuhan is so quiet that bird calls sound down once busy streets. Stray dogs trot in the middle of empty expressways. Residents wrapped in masks creep out of their homes, anxiety flitting across their eyes.
They line up at hospitals overwhelmed by a virus that most had not heard of until a few weeks ago.
They line up outside pharmacies despite the door signs declaring they have sold out of protective masks, disinfectant, surgical gloves and thermometers. They line up to buy rice, fruit and vegetables from food stores that keep operating, while nearly all other shops are closed.
Then they shuffle home to wait out this 21st-century siege. The unluckiest ones lie at home or in a hospital, stricken by pneumonia fevers that could spell death linked to coronavirus 2019-nCoV.
“I’ve started to lose track of the days,” said Yang Dechao, a burly 34-year-old factory worker trapped in Wuhan. “Is it Sunday or Monday? You forget because all normal activity has stopped. Ordinary people have just their families and their phones.”
Soothing recorded messages playing over loudspeakers say that the government cares, and admonish residents to wear masks and minimize outings. Red banners hang on road barriers and walls, telling residents not to heed hearsay about miracle cures.
“Don’t panic,” says one banner. “Don’t allow rumors to make a mess of things.”
But after Wuhan officials silenced early talk of the virus outbreak as “rumor mongering,” many residents are skeptical about the reassuring official message.
“First, we need honesty and transparency now,” said Mao Shuo, a 26-year-old engineering company worker who had briefly tugged down her mask outside for a cigarette. “Who’s to blame, who gets punished, that must come, but now we just want to survive.”
Day two of a cruise ship quarantine: permission to breathe.
Things were looking up on Thursday for the more than 2,000 passengers quarantined on a cruise ship in Yokohama, Japan: Meals were coming on a more regular schedule. The internet was upgraded to a wider bandwidth. And there was even official approval to breathe some fresh air.
Still, on the second day of a planned two-week quarantine, there was persistent concern about the spreading coronavirus and dread about long days ahead stuck inside the cabins.
As Japanese health officials continued to screen 273 passengers who were potentially exposed to the virus, they said that 20 of the 102 tested so far had been found to be positive.
The first 10 cases were announced on Wednesday, and the second 10 on Thursday. The new cases involved four Japanese passengers, two Americans, two Canadians, one New Zealander and one Taiwanese. They were removed from the ship on Thursday and taken to medical facilities.
“I keep hearing painful coughs from a foreigner in a nearby room,” one passenger wrote on Twitter, noting with concern that crew members were delivering meals from room to room. “I might get infected today or tomorrow.”
Other passengers who have been whiling away some of the time on social media told of more hopeful signs. One noted that supplies were being moved into the port and that ambulances were in position. Another said that entertainment crews had been visiting guest rooms to cheer people up, and that toilet paper had been distributed.
Some posted a letter that had been delivered to their rooms saying that the ship was negotiating with Japanese quarantine officials to allow small groups with face masks to breathe air on open decks.
The cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, with a total of about 3,700 people on board, arrived in Yokohama on Monday night after a 14-day trip to Southeast Asia. They have been forced to stay on the vessel since an 80-year-old Hong Kong man who disembarked last month tested positive for the virus.
The Diamond Princess is not the only cruise ship caught up in the coronavirus epidemic, which has killed hundreds of people in China. A ship called the World Dream is idling in the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal in Hong Kong after eight people from mainland China who were on a previous journey were found to be infected with the coronavirus.
Nintendo, Qualcomm and Yum China join list of companies hit by coronavirus.
Nintendo, the Japanese maker of video games and gaming devices, has become the latest company to get hit by the coronavirus.
Citing the impact of the outbreak on China, where many of its devices are manufactured, Nintendo said on Thursday that shipments of its Nintendo Switch game console to customers in Japan would be delayed. It also said shipments of peripherals like its Joy-Con, the controllers that slide into either side of the Switch, and its Ring-Con, a device intended to allow players to exercise while they play a game called Ring Fit Adventure, will be delayed as well.
Also delayed in Japan: A special Switch tied to Animal Crossing, a video game about a village populated by walking, talking, animals.
On Wednesday, Akash Palkhiwala, chief financial officer of Qualcomm, told investors that the giant American chip maker reduced the low end of its earnings guidance for the coming three months because of the uncertainty created by the outbreak. The company is a major supplier of chips essential to running Chinese-made smartphone, including local brands.
Also on Wednesday, Yum China, which operates KFC and Pizza Hut franchises in China, said that nearly one-third of its restaurants had been closed because of the outbreak. Andy Yeung, Yum China’s finance chief, said the company could post operating losses for the first three months of the year, and also for the full year “if the sales trend continues.”
Online rumors send Hong Kong on a hunt for toilet paper.
Rumors of an impending toilet paper shortage incited Hong Kong residents to make a furious dash to stock up on Wednesday night, despite little evidence supplies were running low.
Across the city, shelves cleared within hours as messages claiming to have inside information from Wellcome, a supermarket chain, were passed around online. The messages claimed that suspended manufacturing in mainland China would cause most brands of toilet paper to run out soon.
In a statement, Wellcome’s parent company, Dairy Farm Group, said the rumors were false and that it was “working closely with our suppliers to provide sufficient and diversified choices of products to our customers.”
The sudden demand for toilet paper reflected a city on edge, fearful that what has so far been a modest number of confirmed cases could soon explode. It also reflected a distrust in the government, besieged by pro-democracy protests that have boiled for eight months, and its ability to respond to the crisis.
Most residents of Hong Kong, scarred by the SARS outbreak of 2002, wear surgical masks in public, which has led to an actual citywide shortage. Outside a drugstore in the North Point neighborhood, a line of about 100 people snaked around a sidewalk on Thursday, despite a sign at the door saying no masks would be sold there.
“Please do not queue up,” the sign said, to no avail.
On Thursday, would-be visitors to the website for ParknShop, a grocery chain, were forced to wait in an online queue just to access the shopping site. At noon, the wait was more than an hour, with 25,000 people waiting their turn.
China warns Taiwan not to use the outbreak as an excuse for independence.
China’s government on Thursday accused Taiwan’s governing party of exploiting the coronavirus outbreak to push for Taiwan’s independence, referring to its effort to participate in World Health Organization discussions over the outbreak.
Taiwan, which is self-governed but which China claims is part of its territory, has repeatedly lobbied to be included in panels held by the W.H.O., the United Nation’s health agency. The W.H.O. cannot share information about the virus independently with Taiwan, because the United Nations considers it part of China.
“‘Taiwan independence’ separatists have seized on the opportunity to clamor for participation in the World Health Organization’s discussions, in an attempt to use the epidemic to expand the so-called ‘international space’ of Taiwan,” read a statement from China’s Taiwan Affairs Office on Thursday.
In an apparent attempt to avoid taking sides in the dispute, the W.H.O. referred to the island as “Taipei and environs” in a list of Chinese cities and provinces with confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The United Nations body has previously referred to the entire island as Taipei — Taiwan’s capital city. It has also referred to it as Taipei, China, drawing a backlash from residents.
Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs mocked the W.H.O.’s new moniker. “W.H.O., what’s wrong with you?” a pointed tweet from the ministry’s official account said.
Su Ih-jen, the director general of the Taiwan Centers for Disease Control, said the political definitions that led to the exclusion of Taiwanese medical experts in international public health meetings had hampered prevention efforts during the SARS epidemic of 2002-3. “The two sides of the Taiwan Strait must extend olive branches at this time, put aside political considerations and work together to fight the epidemic,” he wrote that in an opinion piece for The Times.
The Taiwanese government has been taking tough measures to prevent the virus from infiltrating its borders. Health officials on Thursday banned all international cruise ships from its ports after a 60-year-old Taiwanese woman contracted the virus on a cruise ship now quarantined in Yokohoma, Japan.
Communist Party clamps down on the media as Beijing becomes a target.
As the number of coronavirus infections in China continues to surge without any sign of slowing down, the ruling Communist Party has clamped down on the news media and the internet, signaling an effort to control the narrative about a crisis that has become a once-in-a-generation challenge for leaders in Beijing.
With frustrations running high across the country, China’s leaders appear to be strengthening information controls after a brief spell in which news organizations were able to report thoroughly on the crisis, and many negative comments about the official response were left uncensored online.
In recent days, both the state-run news media and more commercially minded outlets have been told to focus on positive stories about virus relief efforts, according to three people at Chinese news organizations who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal directives.
Internet platforms have removed a variety of articles that suggest shortcomings in the Chinese government’s response or are otherwise negative about the outbreak.
Local officials have also cracked down on what they call online “rumors” about the virus. China’s Ministry of Public Security this week lauded such efforts, which have continued even after one person who was reprimanded for spreading rumors turned out to be a doctor sounding the alarm about early cases of the illness.
In the early days of the crisis, online vitriol had largely been directed at the local authorities. Now, more of the anger is being aimed at higher-level leadership, and there seems to be more of it over all, said King-wa Fu, an associate professor at the Journalism and Media Studies Center at the University of Hong Kong.
Reporting was contributed by Elaine Yu, Daniel Victor, Sui-Lee Wee, Raymond Zhong, Tiffany May, Carlos Tejada, Isabella Kwai, Amy Qin, Elsie Chen and Chris Buckley.